Sorrows and Triumphs
with Afinidad and Imani Winds
Throughout his notable career, Venezuelan-born pianist and composer Edward Simon, a long time resident of the United States, has moved with ease across musical genres, from classical music and jazz to Latin American folklore and popular repertoire and back.
Perhaps an expression of his personal experience as an integrated outsider, in Simon’s playing and writing, fusion has a grounded, lived-in feel. In fact, unless the particular project calls for it — such as his Venezuelan Suite (2014) or the Latin American Songbook (2016)— Simon has not seemed especially interested in underlining the particular sources of this or that work. It’s all of one piece, he seems to suggest, even if made sometimes of disparate parts.
As for his broad goals as a musician, Simon has stated that he aims to “balance the structural clarity of classical music with the moment-to-moment interaction of jazz.”
Smartly conceived and beautifully played, Sorrows and Triumphs suggests a wide-angle snapshot of his interests, sources, and approach. It also underscores the challenges, and perhaps the limits, of chamber jazz.
In Sorrows and Triumphs Simon aggregates and shuffles the order of the movements from two suites, “Sorrows and Triumphs” and “House of Numbers,” both commissioned by Chamber Music of America’s New Jazz Works program. The suites have different organizing themes, sources and orchestration. (There is also a stand-alone composition, the opening track, “Incessant Desires.”)
The three pieces from the title suite – “Equanimity,” “Rebirth” and “Triumphs” – feature Simon’s quartet, Afinidad (David Binney, sax; Scott Colley, bass; and Brian Blade, drums) augmented by vocalist Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Adam Rogers, and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. It’s inspired by Simon’s Buddhist studies and practice.
The tracks from “House of Numbers” – “Uninvited Thoughts,” “Triangle,” “Chant” and “Venezuela Unida” – feature the quartet, percussionist Luis Quintero and the classical wind quintet Imani Winds, and the subject of this suite combines numerology and various musical traditions.
Here, if because nothing else but the characteristics and size of the ensemble, the writing is more detailed, and the music feels more tightly controlled. (The M.C. Escher-like transformation of “Venezuela Unida” from folkloric piece to jazz to minimalism and concluding as a sort of Latin folkloric jazz is brilliantly constructed.)
But even when the emphasis is on composition and arranging, Simon keeps open spaces for improvisation (such as in “Uninvited Thoughts” or “Rebirths”). That said, Simon rarely lets loose here. He is a terrific player, fluent and elegant, but one can hear the composer and arranger in the careful development of the single lines, the measured pacing and the chord voicings. Improvisation as instant composition, indeed.
There’s a push-pull between his roles as improviser and writer, between emotion and intellect, that plays throughout Sorrows and Triumphs. The more intellect wins, the less spontaneity and emotion we get — and passion matters.
Chamber jazz will provide structure, but at a price.
Listening to Edward Simon as he continues his search for that elusive balance between order and improvisation should be illuminating.
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Paris-based trio Delgres’s notable Mo Jodi, has a raw, gutbucket blues feel and a textured, hypnotic quality. Led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Pascal Danaë, born in Paris of Guadeloupean parents, Delgres features Baptiste Brondy on drums and vocals and Rafgee on sousaphone, a choice that gives the trio a distinct foundation and bounce. (It also connects Delgres to the street marching tradition of New Orleans.)
Sung in Creole and English, most of the songs on Mo Jodi (I’ll Die Today) speak against some form of oppression. After all, the trio is named after Louis Delgres, a Creole officer in the French Army who died in Guadeloupe fighting against Napoleon’s army, which had been sent to reinstate slavery.
The first two tracks set the tone. The opening “Respect Nou” (Respect Ourselves) calls for self-respect, and the title track recalls and honors Delgres’ sacrifice (“You know I can’t let you do that, no/ I’d rather die today”) There’s a pointed “Mr.President;” and a seemingly breezy “Anko” (Never Again), which on closer inspection turns out to be about escaping slavery, and yes, there is time for romance (“Ti Manmzel” (Mademoiselle) and family love “Pardone Mwen” (Forgive me).
But in the spirit of the blues, in Mo Jodi anger and sorrow are transmuted into joy.
Ah yes, there’s nothing like dancing to the revolution.
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Guitarist Steve Tibbetts has a very distinct catalog. The acoustic, meditative Life Of (ECM), comprising mostly a collection of musical portraits of people he knows, offers yet another turn in his approach to sound, time and musical space. It unfolds slowly and the results are neither flashy nor exact — which is precisely part of its appeal.
“I labor over these records to perhaps an insane degree, but that’s not about achieving any kind of instrumental perfection,” he is quoted in the notes that accompanied the release. “So many things in our culture are over-produced now, sanded down to a kind of flawless metallic gleam. I’ve gone more organic as the years have gone on. … I want the records to have a human, handcrafted quality.”
In Life Of he succeeds.
In Two Hands To Tango (Avantango) Norwegian pianist Hakon Skogstad reimagines several tango classics (including “Los Mareados,” “Sur,” and “El Marne”) and offers three originals (including his Piazzolla tribute, “Tristezas de un Doble S”). He has a crisp sound and a rather melodramatic approach at the piano, probing the repertoire with a smart balance of respect and insolence. To guide the project, Skogstad called on bassist and producer Pablo Aslan, a pioneer of jazz tango in the United States, and Two Hands … nods to the tradition as it offers a fresh outsider’s take.
Pianist Monika Herzig´s Sheroes (Whaling City Sound) features, among others, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, flutist Jamie Baum, guitarist Leni Stern and saxophonist Ada Rovati. It includes engaging originals, smart arranging (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), and inspired playing throughout. Little Steps, by Spanish saxophonist Berta Moreno, is a solid debut featuring not only her talents as a player (round, robust tone, fluid improvisation) but also as a writer. An artist worth watching.
If you are yearning for some high-energy, turn-it-to-11 jazz rock, find Turkish Cypriot bassist Oytun Ersan’Fusiolicious. Ersan’s seven originals are a fiery update of ‘80s electric jazz-rock, and in Dave Weckl, drums; Eric Marienthal, sax; Gary Husband, keyboards, and Dean Brown, guitar, he got some of the players who once shaped that music and know what to do in it.
A worthy recording I missed when it was released: Soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc Magic Circle. First and only takes (writes Newsome in the notes) of seven standards (including very original renditions of “Giant Steps” and “In A Mellow Tone”) and two improvised pieces, clearly performed without a net. No, not everything works, but every track pokes the imagination.